Eskimos GM Eric Tillman takes hot seat

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:43 AM ET

EDMONTON - Is Eric Tillman likely to lose his job as Edmonton Eskimos general manager with one year remaining on his contract?

Or will he get a chance to try return the team to the 11-7 team which played in the Western Final last year regardless of how this year ends?

It’s not just the Ricky Ray trade that’s being questioned.

Aaron Fiacconi, in his first year of retirement from the Eskimos sent out a tweet which has found legs:

“I owe so much to the Esks as a franchise but this awful ‘management’ of players has killed this team. Zero confidence! Revolving door! JOKE!”

Usually when a team goes on a five-game losing streak it’s the head coach who finds himself with a noose around his neck, but in Edmonton is the dead man walking more likely to be the general manager, the redhead who put together the team which finished in a three-way tie for first last year with an 11-7 record and delivered the first home playoff game since 2004?

With Tillman indeed on the hot seat right now, I asked him sit him down on it and deal with the tough questions.

To his credit, Tillman took the seat.

JONES: “OK let’s start with the live story. Kavis Reed takes over as offensive co-ordinator. Never been an offensive co-ordinator before. One year as a running backs coach in Saskatchewan. Plenty on his plate already. Your explanation.

TILLMAN: “Kavis and I met at 3 a.m. Saturday morning, right after everyone returned from Calgary. We both view Marcus Crandell as a bright young coach but sometimes young coaches go through growing pains — and it’s obvious our offence has some challenges. So after that late night discussion, some sleep and film review, we sat down again. Kavis recommendation was that it might be best for Marcus to take a step back and for Kavis to assume a much larger role on that side of the ball. In the name of good internal communication we took the recommendation to our club president Len Rhodes and agreed that would be our course for the rest of the season.”

JONES: “Obviously since the day you traded away Ricky Ray, a significant percentage of the population has not been enamoured with you. Now the Eskimos have lost five in a row, the cries to have you fired are being heard. No sense dilly, dallying around. Let’s go there.”

TILLMAN: “When you’ve lost five in a row, criticism is expected and justified. Right now we’re still loved by our wives and our dogs and that might be stretching it. Regarding your premise about the Ricky Ray trade, let’s take sentiment out of the discussion and look at the cold hard facts. With Ricky as our starting quarterback this club had only one winning season of the last five years before Kavis was hired as our head coach. As good as Ricky was on an individual basis, we we’re brought in to fix a team problem. While we made significant progress in our first year going 11-7, we finished sixth in points scored and the bottom half of the league in almost every offensive statistic. The truth? We had a 10-quarter stretch where we only scored one offensive touchdown. Our success last year was driven by superb defence and a special teams unit that was second in the league in punting and kickoff. Our formula for continued success this year was strong defence and good field position via the kicking game. So we’re 5-3 and that was working but after 20-plus injuries and two or three heartbreaking losses we’re taking it on the chin. If those criticisms are directed at me, then hey, it comes with the territory, right? But let’s be clear. Our offensive challenges have been a two-year concern, not just this season.”

JONES: “Might as well deal with the Fiaconni tweets and comments next. Too much change, not only by trading away ‘a cornerstone of your franchise’ but ‘revolving doors’ in all areas?”

TILLMAN: “That’s disappointing from an individual who is respected for his contributions to our club and community. In terms of his comments about a revolving door, we’ve had the same centre and left tackle for 13 games but our two guards have both missed multiple games due to injuries. In terms of his emotional response about losing to Calgary for a third time this year, that comes with bleeding green and gold which Aaron does. Losing to them is like eating dirt for all of us. But, hey, Aaron should understand as well as anyone. He was a starter on a team that lost to Calgary two years ago by more than 100-points combined. On the flip side we were a couple of missed field goals away from winning the two games around Labour Day. Along those lines that’s why Twitter and emotions — minus factual context — can be a dangerous combination.”

JONES: “One of the areas where virtually everybody has given you a great deal of credit has been the selection of Kavis Reed as head coach. But a five-game losing streak is a five-game losing streak. How much of this is on him? His staff?”

TILLMAN: “Kavis has a great many attributes and was the right choice for the job. He’s intelligent, passionate and he’s done a remarkable job in many ways. I’ve made some mistakes, Kavis has made some mistakes and the coaching staff has made some mistakes. Success is a collective effort and losing is a collective responsibility. Instead of crying in our milk we need to go back to work and focus on the opportunity in front of us.”

JONES: “What’s wrong with the offensive line? You have a star-studded trio of running backs and none of them are getting much done lately. Is that the O line? Or is it one too many good running backs?”

TILLMAN: “I think any harsh criticism of individuals needs to stay within the walls of our building. But in the big picture sense our run blocking needs to improve significantly. We need to be more physical up front. Our problem isn’t three good running backs, it’s doing the job up front so they can run between the tackles. So far most of our runs have come due to Hugh’s speed and ability to bounce it and turn the corner.”

JONES: “The league fined the Eskimos $1,000 for that practice player situation the other day. But there have been other complaints about “paperwork problems” the league hasn’t been happy with this year. Do they all fall on a specific employee?”

TILLMAN: “It was an honest mistake by a staff member in a new role. Anyone who has been in a new job understands there’s a learning curve. In this specific situation our media relations department put out a press release about the new player so there was certainly no attempt to hide the fact Alex Daniels was practicing.”

JONES: “Should the Eskimos go forward with Eric Tillman?”

TILLMAN: “My focus is on building something special here. I understand the emotions of our fans. They love this team and want to keep enjoying the taste of success. Let’s be clear. I love this job and feel very blessed to have been put in this position to give Kavis his dream job. It’s a burning passion to rebuild a winning tradition. I would love to be here another 20 years. That would mean spiky grey hair, not red.”

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca

Twitter@sunterryjones


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